Drug war dampens Tijuana's booming art scene

Wed Feb 20, 2008 3:40pm EST
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By Mica Rosenberg

TIJUANA (Reuters) - The seediness of this crime-hit border city inspires sculptor Raul Cardenas to make his cutting-edge art. But when stray bullets from a drug gang shootout shattered his studio window, he was forced to move to a safer part of the city.

"Two years ago it was different here, people wanted to come to Tijuana. Now every few days someone is kidnapped," said Cardenas, who makes conceptual sculptures in the sprawling city of factories and shanty-towns just south of San Diego.

Tijuana, a city known since prohibition times as a haven for Americans looking for a tawdry vacation, has gained a reputation as a cultural hotbed since artists began setting up here in the early 1990s and turning the heads of international curators with unique, often political art.

But a recent spike in violence is putting a cramp on the cultural scene as tourists flee and galleries shut doors.

Mexico's drug war is boiling over in Tijuana with over 300 people killed here last year, overwhelming residents accustomed to common crime but not to so much bloodshed.

A consortium of smugglers from the Pacific state of Sinaloa, led by Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, is waging war against other cartels. Drug gang killers have dumped severed human heads on streets and scrawled ominous messages on their victims' corpses.

President Felipe Calderon responded to the violence by deploying 25,000 troops around the country in an unprecedented campaign and now traffickers fight daytime gun battles in crowded neighborhoods with the army and police.

Tijuana's bawdy bars and seedy streets where prostitutes lean against open doorways have attracted free-living artists, photographers and musicians from both sides of the border. But the growing drug violence is turning some away.   Continued...